Boston University Professor writes about his experiences with the Reid interrogation technique:
What I experienced seemed like nothing so much as a seminar in pseudo-science. Our instructor spent a lot of time teaching us how to read body language to tell when a suspect is deceptive, even though psychologists know there’s no such connection. He taught us that, once we determined that the suspect was lying, we should cling to that impression and move boldly ahead – a well-known mistake that psychologists call ‘confirmation bias’, in which we unconsciously seek evidence to confirm our beliefs. We also learned how to ratchet up the discomfort level associated with denial, and how to make it more appealing to confess. We were taught how to ask multiple-choice questions rather than open ones, which inevitably steers and distorts recollections.
Most disturbingly, we were taught that it’s legal in the US to lie to suspects about evidence, albeit as a last resort. It’s a tactic that psychologists have shown can break down resistance and lead to a confession, accurate or not. Detective Wiegert got results when he kept fibbing to Brendan: ‘We know you did it.’ So did the detectives who in 1988 arrested Martin Tankleff, a teenager from Long Island, New York, after he found both his parents dying of stab wounds on the kitchen floor. Police interrogated him for many hours without result. They finally got the confession they needed when they made up a story that, moments before dying, Martin’s father identified his son as the killer. It took 17 years to get the innocent young man out of jail.
These tactics effectively elicit confessions; but as many studies show, they also create false ones. And as coercive as they are with adults, they’re even more so with juveniles.